Allison Lockwood: Mr. Serio’s cart
NORTHAMPTON — Many of my memories concerning childhood years, spent in a two-family house at 12 Massasoit St. here in Northampton, concern a merchant who sold fresh fruit and vegetables to our mothers. His name was Joseph Serio, and my first memory of him concerns his horse-drawn cart that had a white canvas umbrella over his seat up front.
There was some sort of a weighing scale at the rear, but items like potatoes were sold by the peck or bushel basket. Out of one of the latter a small brown snake once crawled onto our kitchen floor.
We children all thought of our daily visitor as “Old Joe.” Our parents, however, always referred to him as “Mr. Serio.” His cart was eventually replaced by a truck.
The neighbors in our section of Massasoit Street in the 1920s were an interesting lot. Our landlord, for example, in whose two-family house my family occupied the first floor, was one John F. Wade, the superintendent of the Northampton Street Railway Co. that carried our fathers to their places of employment and our mothers to the various stores on Main Street, which sold groceries as well as “dry goods” of every description.
The families on Massasoit Street who bought from Joseph Serio included Calvin Coolidge, at number 21, who served as president of the United States from 1923 to 1929. The Coolidges also occupied half of a two-family house; the other half was the home of one Frederick W. Plummer, who served as the principal of Northampton High School for 19 years. A graduate of West Point, he was a manly and impressive figure.
Other neighbors on Massasoit Street included Louis L. Campbell, known as “L.L.” to friends and neighbors. He was a partner in the large J.A. Sullivan and Co. store, located at 3 Main St., that carried everything from hardware and bicycles to agricultural implements and grain. One John T. Curran, who lived at 15 Massasoit St., owned a grocery store at 180 Main Street, known as Curran Bros.
On our side of Massasoit Street, our nearest neighbors included Ottiwell T. Dewhurst, usually referred to by all who knew him as “Ottie,” and an elderly widow named Matilda Wackerhagen. The house at number 10 was owned by Frank and Lilla Graves, a mature couple, the husband of which was a member of the Corticelli Silk Co. located in Florence.
After living in Washington, D.C., for many years, I decided with my family to make our home here in “Hamp” as many locals still call it. I now live not far from my childhood home. All groceries are purchased at Serio’s market, now owned by Christina Cavallari, granddaughter of Joseph Serio.
Born in 1886, Joseph Serio emigrated from Sicily in 1902, and came to Northampton at the age of 16. For about six months he worked at the Boston Fruit Store at 235 Main St. At some point he bought a couple of crates of strawberries and went out to sell them from a handbasket, which constituted the beginning of his own fruit and vegetable business.
After earning enough money to buy a horse and wagon, he was able to serve an ever-increasing number of customers.
In 1916, Joseph Serio was able to buy a seven-acre farm in the Meadows outside Northampton, where he raised enough vegetables and fruit to start his own business. According to one of his descendants, he “worked the farm in the early morning, peddled all day and farmed again in the evening.” In 1922 he married Maria Delisi of Providence, R.I., who became his business partner as well as his wife. In 1925 he was able to buy a truck for $300, which enabled him to replace the horse and wagon, and also to serve more customers.
In 1935 Joseph Serio suffered a heart attack. He died in 1963, a few days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His widow, Maria, continued in the family business until she reached the age of 90.
From “an outdoor stand under an awning,” the present-day grocery store and Serio pharmacy are housed now in the brick building at the corner of State and Center streets. A large parking lot serves both sets of customers, as well as a constant flow of delivery trucks of all shapes and sizes.
On warm, pleasant days, there are always customers who buy sandwiches or salads that they consume at tables under the awning at the front of the grocery.
Allison Lockwood of Northampton writes a monthly column on Valley history. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.